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My absolutely amazing find: Indiana’s free artesian wells

My absolutely amazing find- Indiana's free artesian wells
My absolutely amazing find- Indiana's free artesian wells pin

Do you ever stumble across something you never knew about before but suddenly become super passionate about? I do that at least twenty times a day, and my latest passion is something you’d probably never guess: Indiana’s free artesian wells.

To be fair, 99% of you are probably asking: WTF is an artesian well?

Artesian wells, very simply, are wells that occur when water reaches the surface due to its own natural pressure. No pumping, no fuss… just a free-flowing well hanging out in the middle of nowhere due to its supreme convenience.

The whole interest in these wells started when I stumbled across Kay Westhues’ beautiful photography project on these natural wells, all located (and widely used!) in Indiana during a time when – frankly – most people wouldn’t even entertain the notion of getting their water from a well.

What can I say? I spend a lot of time researching a ton of offbeat travel ideas for this blog and my own selfish pleasure. Everyone needs hobbies.

Indiana Artesian Wells

As Westhues’ artist statement remarks:

They [the wells] represent a vestige of the public commons, and often mark very early human settlements.

I am fascinated by the local culture that has grown around these wells and am photographing both the wells and the people who gather water there. Some say they make the trip simply because they like the taste of well water, while others tell me they do not have access to good water in their homes.

She spent a year traveling around Indiana, snapping photos and interviewing the people who used these wells. I, obviously, went down the rabbit hole: I spent several days trawling her site, many other sites, and virtually “driving” through random parts of Indiana on Google Maps in order to pinpoint the wells she visited – and more.

Why, exactly? (Aside from my obsessive nature?) The whole concept of artesian wells resonated with me for several reasons.

First, I love the idea of feeling more connected to the land I live on. If we care so much about sourcing goods and food locally/sustainably/naturally, why not water? The idea of finding pure, publicly available water strikes a real chord with me. Not only is the water free of the weird taste that comes with treated water, but it’s an amazing way to feel connected to the history of the land as well as the land itself.

Second, these wells are not in heavily populated regions; obviously, progress long destroyed many of the artesian wells which once existed in Indiana. The big perk of that – for me, at least – is that the wells give me an excellent reason to take a road trip to places most people would never see.

Scenic byways, half-forgotten towns, beautiful countryside… what more could you want when on the hunt for fresh, clean water?

If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, why don’t you toss a couple of bottles in your car, take a leisurely drive into the countryside, and check out a cool facet of rural life you might normally pass by – or never pass at all.

Artesian Well Indiana

Artesian wells near Indianapolis

Many of the wells are several hours away from Indianapolis, so I’ve included the ones I’ve found which are within an hour-ish of the city in the Google map below:

To see if there’s a well near you, check out this site. Come back and let me know if you’ve ever been to one of Indiana’s free artesian wells or plan to visit one near you!
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The curious case of Stepp Cemetery (Morgan-Monroe State Forest)

The curious case of Stepp Cemetery (Morgan-Monroe State Forest)
The curious case of Stepp Cemetery (Morgan-Monroe State Forest)The curious case of Stepp Cemetery (Morgan-Monroe State Forest)

You don’t even need to blink to miss it: deep within the woods of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest lies a strange historic cemetery rumored to be wildly haunted: Stepp Cemetery.

From ghosts to satanic cult meetings, this beautiful little slice of Morgan County has it all.

In real life, Stepp Cemetery is what’s known as a “pioneer cemetery”; essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Stepp Cemetery was founded sometime in the 1800s while settlers still struggled to set up life in the relatively unexplored area which would become the state of Indiana.

In truth, when I first stepped into the clearing, I was less afraid of ghosts than the distant echoing of gunshots. (Yes, hunting is allowed in the forest, so be careful!) Sure, there are plenty of terrifying tales of hauntings here, but I was more interested in the history behind the approximate 114 graves (not all marked) in the spacious clearing.

Stepp Cemetery Morgan Monroe State Forest

Just follow this disused path… what could go wrong?

Like Isaac Hartsock, a veteran of the War of 1812, or the Civil War veterans also interred in the area.

Or the Atkins family. My guess? From a brief bit of research, they seem to possibly be related to a pair of brothers on the wrong side of history during the Civil War. (ie. they worked as slave catchers to capture escaped slaves heading north to Canada.)

Or Baby Lester, a stillborn baby delivered and buried in 1937, and whose grave is forever covered in small toys and trinkets to keep the child at peace.

But all the feelings of tranquil, academic curiosity changed when I came to one of the final burial spots on my tour, a pair of matching headstones which looked fairly innocuous. Surely nothing strange, right?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Stepp Cemetery Morgan-Monroe Park

Never at rest?!

I may not believe in ghosts, but even my pace quickened as I headed back down the disused path to my car. You just never know – especially when you’re all by yourself in a 24,000 acre forest.

How to find Stepp Cemetery: it’s actually listed on Google Maps which makes it easy if you have a WIFI connection way out there (I didn’t). It’s still a bit tricky to find: watch for a large rusted gate barring a muddy/gravel road with a sign saying “property closed after 11:00 PM”. If you reach the playground, you’ve gone to far.

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Easy travel hack: use Google Maps to plan a trip

Easy travel hack- use Google Maps to plan a trip header
Easy travel hack- use Google Maps to plan a trip

Every one of my trips starts with a list. For a long time, it was a mental list of stuff I saw when reading or surfing through Instagram for inspiration. Alternatively, the list was composed of bits of paper scattered everywhere, meaning a whole swath of great ideas could just disappear if I wasn’t paying attention to what I was throwing away.

Either way, I usually ended up missing some good stuff that I just totally forgot about.

Recently, though, I’ve begun to reduce the sheer clutter and hodgepodge of information I usually stuff into my brain/bag. I’ve turned to an online option that seems underutilized for how wildly helpful it can be: Google Maps ‘My Maps’.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to use Google Maps to plan a trip. You can easily create a highly customizable, easily searchable map for your next adventure.

How to use Google Maps to plan a trip

  1. Go to Google Maps and click on ‘My Places’.
  2. Head over to the ‘Maps’ and click ‘Create Map’ at the bottom of the page.
  3. Once there, you can search for the places on your list. They’ll pop up – click ‘Add to list’. You can edit the description with hours or other information you might have jotted down earlier.
  4. If you have a lot of points, I’d suggest creating layers such as restaurants, bars, museums, or whatever else you’re interested in.
  5. For extra ease, I like to change each layer’s pinpoint colors so it’s easy to see what category is nearby without having to search. (Do this by clicking on the paint bucket at the lower right of each info pop-up). You can also change the icon in the same menu.
  6. If you want to share your map, simply click the ‘Share’ button, make your map public, and insert the link wherever you’d like!

Bonus! Under the search bar, click on the line with three circles – this will let you create directions! Simply click on one place as your start point (A) and a second place as your end point (B), choose whether you’re walking or driving, and Google will calculate the easiest route between the two. So helpful!

As an example, check out my 2017 Indiana adventure list so far:

Have you ever used Google Maps to travel? Would you consider using one on your next trip?